Three weeks after revealing that its liquid hydrogen- and liquid oxygen-fueled rocket engine was ready to fly, Blue Origin, a startup space company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, launched its New Shepard spaceship on its first flight into suborbital space, the company said Thursday.
Powered by the recently completed BE-3 engine, the rocket blasted off from Blue's privately owned test site in West Texas on Wednesday (the time was not disclosed) and soared almost to the edge of space 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the planet.
Will Commercial Contracts Superboost NASA's Route to Mars?
The capsule perched on the rocket's nose separated "perfectly" from the propulsion module, Bezos said in a statement.
"Any astronauts onboard would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return," he said.
New Shepard is designed to fly three passengers and/or a combination of passengers and payloads to suborbital space. Similar systems are being developed and tested by Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace.
Blue's New Shepard capsule made a parachute landing back to the launch site, but its expandable booster didn't fare as well. Like SpaceX's Falcon first-stage rockets, Blue Origin wants to land its boosters vertically back at the launch sites so they can be refurbished and reused.
Blue Origin's Launch Pad Protest Denied by the GAO
During Wednesday's flight, Blue's booster lost pressure in its hydraulics system during descent, Bezos said.
"Fortunately, we've already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system," he added.
"We continue to be big fans of the vertical takeoff, vertical landing architecture. We chose VTVL because it's scalable to very large size. We're already designing New Shepard's sibling, her Very Big Brother - an orbital launch vehicle that is many times New Shepard's size."
The orbital system will use another engine, the BE-4, currently under development.
Meanwhile, two more BE-3-based propulsion modules for New Shepard suborbital flights are in the process of being assembled, the company said.
"Can't wait to fly again," Bezos said.